Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Planning a Gala Event

I recently finished planning an annual conference in Washington, DC. The last day of the conference my client held a gala dinner for 200 people. Being their conference planner, I coordinated the gala logistics including; venue location, contract negotiation, room arrangements, décor, transportation, audio-visual, food and beverage arrangements, tracked the budget, and hired a DJ, just to name of few responsibilities for this type of event.

During the planning stages, the venue required an itinerary so their staff can accommodate the flow of the banquet dinner. In this case, my client wanted to do an awards ceremony, announcements, fundraise, and a comedy show. The comedian was also our emcee. It takes time to coordinate the minute details for the agenda to maintain the quality and value of the event.

Here are some tips to create a program and schedule a flow for the event…

In creating the program handout, it’s important to thank all of your sponsors. For the content of the program, start with the title of the event and whom it is hosted by. Use a classic font like, Lucida Calligraphy or Monotype Corsiva. Then, start with the timing of the event. 7 pm is typical for gala dinners and would start with a welcome cocktail hour. Next is dinner, usually an hour after the welcome reception. At 8:00 pm, we moved them into the ballroom or main function area where the presentation begins and the first course has already been pre-served. Then, it’s on to the awards ceremony, a comedian skit, and a special guest presentation. At 8:00pm the entrée was being served. That can take up to an hour. Following the banquet dinner, we had our presenter’s finish off the awards and make a short fundraiser speech. Coffee and dessert were then served during the last presentation. Around 10:00 pm, we closed with a thank you and reminded everyone to stay and celebrate. This was the entertainment part and included a DJ for dancing. During the program schedule, when there were gaps, the DJ would play background music to comfort the silence.

If you can believe it, this type of event has its share of anxiety. The part that has a certain level of stress isn’t selecting the venue, or arranging of the gala agenda and who goes where, what time is what, do we have awards, no… It’s when it all goes live. It’s crossing your fingers the schedule of event works and works with the venue staff. If the hors d’oeuvres are exactly the way you ordered them, if the food is going to taste good, and mostly, if people show up. Then, are people going to show up? Are we ready for them to show up? Will there be more people that show up? Will there be fewer? Did I order enough food? Did I order too much? Make sure to smile. Are we within budget? Does the DJ have the agenda? Do I need to feed him or her? All the while, making sure to greet everyone, including the VIP guests. Can you imagine the pressure?

Indeed it is a lot of anxiety and you barely get to enjoy the great meal but that’s the life of a planner. We wear many hats and put out fires when no one is looking. In the end, the Gala was a huge success and people had fun. That is the reward. Being organized is one of the key elements of planning a successful event. Although, you can’t expect it to go perfectly, you can manage whatever gets in the way of running a smooth event. When all is said and done and someone says thank you, you know you did a good job.

Tess Conrad • Meeting and Conference Planner, RDL enterprises